Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Escape From Alcatraz

June, 2015, edited much later

This was easily the most fun triathlon I’ve done.  And probably the most fun race I’ve done.  That wasn’t planned.  The plan was a hard race.  

A transition photo because I don't carry a camera during triathlons.

Waking well before dawn (the hardest part of any race for me) and finding parking (the second hardest part of races in cities), setting up my bike and triathlon gear in transition was fast and easy.  I feel like I’ve done this a few times now, this being my 6th triathlon.  It’s also been my longest racing break since I started in early 2012, at two months, and I had a really good stretch of training.  I was surprised to get in, given the race’s popularity and lottery process.  

The bus ride and ferry ride were long and sleepy.  I  question things when getting ready for an endurance race takes longer than the race itself.  The boat to swim transition itself was surreal.  One moment you’re warm, sleepy, and forcing yourself through the motions to get ready to swim, double dnd triple checking everything because you haven’t slept enough, and a few moments later you’ve jumped off the boat, you’re in the cold water, and you're moving at full speed.

The jump itself is funny.  Everyone i know who hasn’t done the race, but is contemplating it, fears this moment the most.  I did too, to some extent, but I also know that I’ll walk right through those moments without giving myself time to think about it, to get through it.  And the truth is that the jump has a lot less in height than the videos they publicize online.  The front-of-the-pack racers jump off the higher bow.  The mortals jump off more amidship, closer to the water.  And the mental game of jumping, getting out of the way, sighting to set your course, and starting your swim takes up enough mental bandwidth that you don’t even notice the cold.  At least that’s my story.  Honestly, I remember the moment right before the jump and the moment right after the jump, and the fact that I hesitated for about half a second to make sure I wasn't jumping on anyone, but I don’t recall jumping itself.  Must have been fine.  

The swim was fun.  I’ve swum from alcatraz to aquatic park before, and found it easier than expected, in comparison to swims across the golden gate.  This swim was similar.  Foggy, calm, and feeling warmer than in training swims.  The pack spreads out wide too, so you have much more space to yourself than a typical triathlon on a closed course.  But being a race, you push yourself harder than in an easier paced open water swim.  It was just plain fun, and I swam really well.  The two weeks of 650 yard repeats at the end of my training really worked.  

I came into shore at the perfect spot, right before the arch to the half mile warmup run to T1.  Note to self for future reference—the tidal current is strongest closest to shore.  This is documented on the intertubes, but I hadn’t found it out until researching more after the race.  Anyway, the half mile run was like jogging in molasses; on his course the swim affects my run much more so than the bike.  I’m glad I did a few bay swim/run bricks to learn this ahead of time and know what to expect.  

I don’t remember T1.  Not a thing about it.

The bike was fun and fast.  And hard too, one short climb was just painful.  But it was short…it’s more hilly than I expected, which made for a fun ride.  I kept speed down a little on some descents, since I’m not the fastest downhill rider due to my limited biking experience, but otherwise I pushed hard the whole time.

T2 happened.  I’m sure it did.

In the run, I still felt the effect of the cold swim, coupled with the hard ride, and I was no where near my top speed, but I expected that.  The bike-to-run switch is a weak point for me; I’m likely riding too hard to be able to optimize running, but the bike being my weakest sport, it’s probably wearing me down the most.  That said, it’s been improving the fastest this year.  

The finish
I finished in 3:33 or so, somewhere in the middle, time-wise, with the swim being my strongest sport.  I think this has been my best executed race in a couple years, maybe altogether, despite the weak points.  I didn’t feel sore or tired the entire time and pushed hard for the entire course.  

Things done right:
  • 650 yard swim repeats, thrice a week, for a few weeks before tapering.
  • 5 mile bike repeats, thrice a week, for a few weeks before tapering.  I now have my bike pace up to a point that I raced consistently in the crowd around me throughout the race, except for the sand ladder, where I consistently passed people.
  • Hill training and deadlifts.  The sand ladder climb, of all things, was my strongest split relative to the crowd.

Things to improve
  • Wear lots of sunscreen in the horribly long and badly organized registration line.
  • I have a problem with my psoas muscles getting tight, and it hit me on this run, probably because everything else was dead tired at this point, and I pushed hard through everything that was tired.  It would take weeks of mobility work to fix this after the race.  That’s probably something that needs regular attention.
  • Bike strength is much better now, and technical riding on downhills is now my main limiting factor.  

Things of note:
  • This triathlon has an older, and very experienced, demographic.  It might be the price and the bucket list nature of it for most racers, but I think I read that the average age was mid 40s.  
  • There are a couple short and very steep sections on the bike course.  Squats with weights are your friend in training.  
  • Legs were dead after the swim--from the cold.  I’m not sure how best to address this.  Maybe a short sprint after a cold bay swim instead of a longer run?  Maybe kicking more aggressively to keep legs warm?
  • I did few run/bike bricks this time, to focus on bigger weaknesses.  That might be worth focusing on more next time  

  • Swim 43:36
  • T1 10:52
  • Bike 1:17:29
  • T2 3:21
  • Sand Ladder 3:59
  • Run 1:18:10
  • Total 3:33:27

Cutest finisher of the day.

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